Monday, March 15, 2010

They Paved Paradise

At our annual town meeting Saturday, the towns people present voted in favor of letting the quarry put in a road to haul rock from their new site over to the old rock crusher through a town-owned lot that will be sold to them in a sweetheart deal. The lot is home to a tributary brook of the Contoocook river, a pristine stretch of water that borders on the Mink Hills protected area. But the family owned company, which also owns the ski resort that is the town's largest employer, packed the hall. They are good people, live here in town, and the new road did have its selling points. What was impressive, however, was the numbers of people they got out to the meeting. The mood was mean, with one large, hulking angry man at one point striding to the microphone demanding to know which of the selectmen were in favor of the warrant article that was seeking to put the lot into a conservation easement, thus preventing the sale and the new road. Apparently he hadn't seen the town warrant which said the article had been placed by petition. But the vote wasn't even close. It was a sweep for the quarry and for people who felt that what is good for this family's business is good for the town. In this economic climate there was no room for the opposing arguments in favor of the recreational and ecological value of keeping the land undeveloped.
A little bit of uplifting perspective is that there is plenty of open land around us. As one guy said at the meeting referring to 40 percent of the town, "You can take your dog anywhere and it can poop wherever it wants," and this is largely true. So I am not feeling totally defeated by this outcome.
The meeting itself lasted for nine hours. I had to present one of the articles as chairman of the town energy committee, asking for a positive vote in order for the town to expend the funds we received as part of a federal grant to do energy audits on the town's municipal buildings. I thought the Tea Party tone of the gathering might mean some hue and outcry at accepting the aid from Uncle Sam, and there was some grumbling as I left the microphone behind, but the article passed, thankfully.
Many of the towns in the southern third of the state have left the old town meetings behind, opting for a new system that allows people to vote for town warrants without having to attend a meeting. It is more convenient, but less conducive to feelings of community. There is something to be said for seeing much of the town's personalities, the good, the bad, and at Saturday's meeting, some of the ugly, all together in one place, at least once a year, conducting the messy process of democracy in all its amateur glory.
(Concord Monitor Photo/Katie Barnes)
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